First of two articles on Jim Shockey’s The Professionals hunting trip to Nepal
Nepal may be the top of the world, but it’s not on the top of many people’s bucket list of hunting locales. But Jim Shockey went, taking a four-man crew from “The Professionals” series on Outdoor Channel with him.
Among those wondering why was his son, Branlin, the show’s producer. While thrilled to go, Branlin wasn't exactly certain why his father, at 54, would want to sign up for risky high-altitude hunts in the Himalayas.
“I’m not entirely sure what drives my father, to not just Nepal, but to travel the world,” Branlin said. “Nepal is sort of the first time for me trying to figure out exactly what that is and to show people that.”
The crew was comprised of the Shockeys, international hunting expert Corey Knowlton, rookie cameraman Matthew Gibson and more than 10 sherpas carrying their equipment. Team Shockey spent three weeks on the journey, shooting 78 hours of tape for four half-hour episodes of “The Professionals,” which airs Sundays at 4:30 p.m. ET and Mondays at 9 p.m. For complete show times, visit The Professionals Show Page.
Starting at Khatmandu, the crew observed the culture, visiting Hindu temple Krishna Mandir and even witnessed a cremation. They saw a helicopter that would later crash and learned of a death on Mount Everest while they were there last March.
Click image to see photos of the Shockeys' hunt in Nepal
Several of the members also experienced the wrath of high altitude after several climbs to 16,500 feet. In the end, they experienced a great hunt and brought home an adventure Jim Shockey hopes viewers will feel they were on.
“I would think that’s a very good legacy if the day I pass away I can look back and say I brought everybody watching along with us,” he said. “They’d actually say that I was there with them and I suffered through every step. That’s what we try to do on any of the shows we produce -- is bring the viewers with us there.”
Shockey said the draw of Nepal was three-fold. Long ago it was known as a hunting mecca but then closed until recently. It’s the only place to hunt the Himalaya blue sheep, the Himalaya tahr and the Indian muntjac in the same area.
“So for me, part of it was the animals,” he said. “It’s just opened up for game in the past few years. The second part of it was the culture and the location. It’s just as important to me on the cultural side as it is on the hunting side.”
The team also traveled close to where Maurice Herzog became the first to summit the 26,545-foot peak of Annapurra, the 10th highest in the world. Shockey read his book on the historic 1950 excursion where Herzog lost toes and fingers, noting that the team survived by hunting and eating tahr.
“They were in exactly the same area that we decided to hunt, so to be in Nepal in their footsteps, it puts it in historic context,” Shockey said. “All of those three factors: the species that were there, the cultural and the historic element in terms of hunting, that’s the reason I chose Nepal.”
Branlin, 26, had been on numerous trips with his father, but he recently took a larger role as show producer. It’s his creativity, eye-catching footage and thoughtful scripts that make the show. He said his preconceived notions of mountains, mist, monks and monasteries in Nepal surpassed his expectations.
“Nepal vastly exceeded what I was thinking it would be,” he said. “That’s not just from the hunting side, it’s also from the actual mountains and landscape. Not to mention the hunt itself was pretty epic, too.”
As the team toured Khatmandu, he and Matt got within 10 feet of a Hindu ritual of cremation, and that stuck with him. A helicopter then took them to base camp at 10,000 feet to begin the hunting portion of the trek.
“They just didn’t have any helipads any higher,” Branlin said. “From there you’re not hunting, you’re actually just acclimatizing. So you spend a few days there which really didn’t get shown on the shows, but we ended up hiking about 3 or 4,000 feet and came back down and slept at a lower altitude.
“By the time you’re actually hunting, you’re about four or five days into the trip because even once you acclimatized then you have to do another day or two-day walk into where you’re actually hunting. So there’s no vehicles. There’s no nothing. Once you’re off the helicopter, you’re in the middle of nowhere.”
And that can be risky if affected by high altitude. Branlin said he was more worried about himself than his father, who had been on numerous hunts in extreme mountains.
“The thing about altitude is that it doesn’t really matter what kind of shape you’re in,” he said. “I was actually a little bit worried about how I would be doing let alone worry about the other guys. We actually mostly did fine. Matt and Corey had some problems about halfway through the trip. They went up to 16.5 twice in a row. They did some pretty serious climbs up to that altitude over two days.”
The potential for those kind of issues were brought to the forefront by the helicopter pilot on their flight to base camp. He told Team Shockey that a climber had just died the weekend before of pulmonary edema on Mount Everest at 17,000 feet, just 500 feet higher than Matt and Corey went.
The Shockeys witnessed the inherit danger themselves. They saw a team of Russians fly in near them, then the next day another chopper flew overhead much lower. They later learned the first helicopter had crashed and the second was on a rescue mission.
In cutting the shows, Branlin said he worked hard to include the culture in Nepal as well as the hunt and the personal struggles of each of The Professionals.
“From an editing perspective, sometimes you have to throw away a lot of really good footage that’s interesting but it’s not always hunting related,” he said. “I wanted to keep what each member of the team goes through, and what each character kind of struggles with on this journey to eventually get the opportunity to hunt these animals.
“You look at Cory and toward the end he was struggling at the higher altitudes, starting to get sick. I tried to show him overcoming that and when he finally does get the shot of that ram and his reactions to that, you can see that that meant a lot to him.”
For Branlin, the ceremony of the cremation was forever etched in his memory banks.
“On a trip like this, you have a lot of emotional moments that will stay with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “They’re not always specifically just on the actual hunt shoot itself. For instance, myself, what I took from it was the cremation, where you’re literally experiencing something like that. It’s something I think about still and something that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Branlin also seems to be gaining a grasp of what makes his father tick, why he maps out and goes on these extreme hunts in such extreme places.
“Hopefully,” he said, “seeing the whole trip and seeing what was involved, can give people a better understanding of why that’s important to Corey and ultimately why my dad and Corey do these kind of adventures.”
Next: Nepal adventure brings father and son closer together
For a preview video of the Nepal hunt, click here.